Businesses Prepare for Omicron Outbreak
Companies are preparing for the disruption of an Omicron outbreak, but say they are ready.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned the country would move to the strictest setting of ‘red’ traffic lights within 48 hours of a community outbreak.
Lisa England, owner of the Arthaus store in New Plymouth, said going through a red light if an outbreak of Omicron occurs would just be a continuation of what they were already doing.
“We will just continue to follow government guidelines around mask-wearing, signing-in and maintaining distancing,” she said.
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“However, it will make things calmer to begin with.
“The past has shown that any major change such as changes in levels, cases in our community, etc. seem to instill fear in people and business declines.”
Chris Wilkinson, chief executive of First Retail Group, said Omicron has added a new dimension to doing business in New Zealand.
“It’s about acting now to do everything in our power to prepare your staff, reduce risk, maintain business continuity and take care of your customers.”
The big concern for companies was first and foremost to keep their staff and customers safe, followed by maintaining sales and goodwill, he said.
Retailers with multiple locations were likely to close some branches and transfer remaining workers to those they could open. Production businesses, such as bakeries, could work with nearby retailers to sell their product if they didn’t have enough store staff, he said.
“We’ve also seen companies looking to pop up to create a separation of production and retail functions to create ‘bubbles’ as an added precaution of resilience.”
Moving online would also keep stores afloat.
Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope said businesses will focus on preparedness in the coming weeks.
“Every day without community transmission of the Omicron variant is another opportunity to minimize the impact it will have on your business.”
The highly contagious variant of Omicron and ‘the big sick’, where employees will likely have to use many sick days while they self-isolate and the virus spreads, have the potential to severely disrupt existing ways of working , did he declare.
“If your staff can work from home, make sure they are properly equipped.
“If you have a roster, see if it can be modified to create teams that limit exposure to each other. Think about what parts of the business you can cut back on if you have to operate with fewer staff.
Hope advised dealing quickly with an outbreak in businesses and establishing a central mode of communication with staff working during and outside office hours, for coordination and sharing of resources for health boards, will help businesses to operate as well as possible.
Rod Duke of Briscoe Group, which owns and operates Briscoes, and Rebel Sport, also said the company is preparing for an outbreak of Omicron exactly as it did with Delta.
To cope with an anticipated increase in testing if Omicron begins to spread, rapid antigen tests (RATs) will be used more widely.
Ardern said there were 4.6 million such tests in the country and “tens of millions” more on order.
In Australia, companies such as Harvey Norman had stockpiled the tests so they could continue to operate throughout an outbreak.
Harvey Norman has stores in eight countries, including New Zealand, but did not respond when asked if he stocked RATs for New Zealand staff.
Duke said Briscoes Group did not store the tests.
Countdown chief security officer Kiri Hannifin said the country does not have enough testing to even be able to stockpile.
“We have urgently asked the government for advice on the use of RAT in the future, but we have not yet received any information,” she said.
“The RAT tests are proving to be an important security check for our business in Australia, so we hope to hear from the government soon.
“That way we can ensure our planning for Omicron is as advanced as possible, and we’re in the best possible place to protect our team, our community and ensure we have a safe food supply for the Kiwis.”